‘One client wants us to stage a kidnapping’: Inside the wild world of planned marriage proposals

‘Some couples definitely try to outshine or live up to the expectations of these “Insta-perfect" proposals they see all over the internet’ (The Proposal Planners)
‘Some couples definitely try to outshine or live up to the expectations of these “Insta-perfect" proposals they see all over the internet’ (The Proposal Planners)

Ever seen the words “Marry Me” written in the sky? How about two strangers’ faces lasered onto the stars by a special effects team? Or a crowd of hundreds of people cheering near Tower Bridge as rose petals swirl around a happy couple?

If any of the aforementioned scenes seem familiar, it’s possible you’ve witnessed a planned proposal – and the product of an increasingly popular service around the UK that sees people spending anywhere from £1,500 to £165,000 just to pop the question. If it sounds extravagant, that’s because it is, particularly in the midst of a cost of living crisis. But proposal planning agencies are a booming business, with some reporting four times as many clients in 2023 compared to 2019.

“We arrange around five to six each week,” says Shivani Kattri, founder of The Proposal Planners, which offers proposals in places such as a London hotel suite to a beach overseas. The idea is that clients – mostly heterosexual men, according to Kattri – get in touch, asking for a small team to design the perfect proposal. The average cost, including decor, photography, and venue hire, is around £3,000. But depending on the venue and additional travel, prices can easily stretch into six figures.

They can take place across London – The Shard, hotels, and private apartments are some of Kattri’s most frequented venues – or abroad, with one client flying his future wife’s entire family out to Lake Como for a surprise proposal. “That must have been at least £30,000,” Kattri recalls.

Meanwhile, Alisa Grabovaja, from the planning agency The Proposers, says her company has facilitated proposals everywhere from Santorini to Turkey. “One couple embarked on a lavish private yacht adventure, sailing along the Aegean Sea until they reached a secluded spot on the Bodrum coastline where they were greeted by a pink and white floral bandstand with live music,” she says. Her agency has also staged proposals at the Eiffel Tower and the Burj al Arab.

Many planners offer set proposal services, with Kattri’s most popular proposals involving a mix of rose petal-lined walkways, heart-shaped balloons, candles, and large “Marry Me” lettering installed in a particular venue that is often hired out for four or five hours, most of which is used for preparation time. “The couple typically only stays there for an hour,” says Kattri.

Meanwhile, at The Proposers, popular experiences span from picnics in the park and serenading sessions to wine tastings and secret cinemas. Many luxury hotels have also started offering guests a proposal service. A “proposal package” at the Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve in Kent, for example, gives couples the chance to exclusively rent its pergola area for one hour, or go on a private ranger safari across its grounds for £550.

A lot of people see our proposals on Instagram and get in touch from there, wanting their partners to propose to them through us

Shivani Kattri

Of course, when it comes to bespoke proposals, some of the requests can be a little avant-garde. “One client wanted to propose while skydiving,” says Liz Taylor, luxury proposal and wedding planner at Taylor Lynn Corporation. “The issue was that his boyfriend was scared of heights. It took quite some planning to get both of them airborne but we managed it. I’m not sure if the engaged couple were more relieved that he said yes, or that the skydive was over.”

Meanwhile, Kattri was once asked to hire out an entire cinema so that one client could play a feature-length film he’d made for his soon-to-be fiancee. “That was a fun one,” she says. While most requests are accommodated, occasionally some negotiation is required. “I have one client who wants us to stage a kidnapping,” she says. “I’m trying to talk him out of that.”

Secrecy is of paramount importance. “We always work very hard to keep everything under wraps,” says Kattri. They do, however, offer a “drop a hint” service that allows people to indicate their interest in the company, who will then contact their spouse-to-be on their behalf, gently nudging them to use their proposal services. “A lot of people see our proposals on Instagram and get in touch from there, wanting their partners to propose to them through us,” Kattri explains.

Occasionally, however, things do go wrong. Like the time Kattri had arranged a proposal in the middle of a forest, complete with flowers and lighting, only for one of the flowers to burst into flames just as the groom was getting on one knee. “It was just a spark, thankfully. So we rectified that pretty quickly.”

‘The proposals we work on always maintain a truly special feeling’ (The Proposal Planners)
‘The proposals we work on always maintain a truly special feeling’ (The Proposal Planners)

With all of the planning involved, it might sound like the antithesis of romance. Isn’t a proposal supposed to be intimate? A private, quiet celebration between two people before they say their vows in front of everyone they know and all of the relatives they can’t stand?

“The proposals we work on always maintain a truly special feeling,” insists Matthew Shaw, creative director and founder of event planners Sauveur. “Extravagance does not have to mean a large-scale public display or an experience that overshadows the importance of the moment. We always start with the couple themselves, their personalities, and move on from there to ensure it always remains uniquely them; no matter what is involved.”

Besides, if they weren’t romantic, would they work? “We have a 100 per cent success rate so far,” says Kattri, who started her company during the first lockdown after looking for ways to settle the debt she and her husband had acquired after going through IVF. “I had experience working in a jeweller and would regularly speak to customers about how they were going to propose, so the idea came from that.”

As for why these services have become so popular, industry insiders suggest the pandemic has something to do with it. “We were so limited to what we were and not able to do, so there has been an overall increase in wanting to create truly meaningful experiences and celebrations as people focus on the here-and-now human connections, and creating unforgettable moments,” says Shaw. “Proposal budgets have increased, too, as people look to close public spaces, bring in suppliers, and create a multifaceted occasion.”

Kattri argues that, post-Covid, there has been a surge in the number of couples wanting to prioritise themselves. “A lot of our clients are choosing to spend more money on the proposals than the actual weddings,” she says. “They want to make that moment special because it’s something they do just for them, whereas the wedding can invariably feel like it’s for other people.”

Another major contribution is obviously social media. Take one look at anyone’s Instagram Explore page and it won’t take long before you stumble upon some lavish proposal, possibly arranged by one of the aforementioned companies, many of whom share their proposals online (with the couples’ permission). Indeed, new data into wedding habits from Barclays found that almost one in five (24 per cent) of couples update their social media networks within 24 hours of popping the question.

“Celebrities and social media have driven a lot of influence in this market,” says Taylor. “When the Kardashians are showing lavish proposal parties on TV, for example, it fuels ideas for couples. Plus, younger couples are often keen to create an Instagram moment – something that looks incredible – to share with friends and followers.” There can also be a competitive element to it, too. “Some couples definitely try to outshine or live up to the expectations of these ‘Insta-perfect’ proposals they see all over the internet,” says Neil Dutta, managing director at engagement ring specialists Angelic Diamonds.

Pomp and pageantry aside, though, all of the aforementioned companies insist their primary goal is to create a special moment that results in one person saying “yes”. Grand gesture or not, the pressure is huge. “Planning a proposal can be an overwhelming task, and our expertise allows individuals to concentrate on the emotional aspects of the moment, while we handle the intricate details, ensuring a cherished memory that lasts a lifetime,” explains Grabovaja.

“People just want to do something lovely for their partner,” adds Kattri. “[And] that’s all we want to do – give them their special moment.”